Heroin smuggling from Tamil Nadu to Sri Lanka on the rise

Heroin smuggling from Tamil Nadu to Sri Lanka using the sea route is on the rise, Tamil Nadu officials have said.

With a 1,067-km coastline, excellent air connectivity with Southeast Asian countries and major national and state highways that link Tamil Nadu with all parts of India, the state is once again fast emerging as a major transit and shipment point for drug smuggling cartels, the Times of India reported.

These gangs deal in organically-derived drugs like heroin, cocaine and cannabis, synthetic drugs like lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD, widely referred to as acid), and drug precursors such as ketamine and pseudoephedrine.

Statistics from enforcement agencies show that these cartels are smuggling increasingly larger quantities of contraband. These agencies seized 86kg of ephedrine in the first half of 2017, or three times the amount confiscated in 2016. They have seized 115kg of heroin across Tamil Nadu this year, dwarfing confiscations in the past six years, and registered a 25% increase in amphetamine seizures from 2016.

Analysts say the spike in recent cases follows a lull in drug smuggling from Tamil Nadu, which peaked in the late 1990s as a result of the LTTE’s reliance on heroin trafficking. The Tamil rebels began smuggling heroin in the early 1980s, with the So viet invasion of Afghanistan disrupting traditional smuggling routes and Pakistan-based drug gangs making contacts with Sri Lankan Tamil insurgents in the state. Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) Chennai zonal director A Bruno says Sri Lanka is a hub for the heroin trade to Southeast Asian countries and drug cartels have been routing consignments to these nations mostly via Tamil Nadu.

The Tuticorin police seized 5kg of heroin three weeks ago and the Sri Lankan navy in April arrested Rameswaram fishermen for possession of around 13kg of the drug. “The drug is mainly sourced from two areas: across Afghanistan, and the northern states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, from where the excess poppy legally cultivated by farmers for medicinal purposes,” Bruno said.

A senior Tamil Nadu police officer, who has had discussions with Sri Lankan narcotics control officials, says consumption of drugs in Sri Lanka is on the rise and the country’s market is lucrative for those in the trade. “TN coastline is used to ferry drugs like heroin and ganja to Southeast Asian countries,” he said. Officers with various enforcement agencies say narcotic dealers are also sourcing locally-made drugs -a more recent and distinctly worrying development. The presence of units that manufacture drugs like ephedrine, pseudoephedrine and methamphetamine is a cause of concern, they say.

The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) a week ago busted a small manufacturing facility in Red Hills, Chennai, and confiscated 90kg of heroin, 56kg of pseudoephedrine and 11kg of methamphetamine.The primary focus of investigators, however, remains on gangs using Chennai and other ports in the state as transit points to smuggle drugs.

NCB sleuths in the past month seized two consignments of pseudoephedrine, landing 15kg from both busts, bound for Malaysia and South Africa. Pseudoephedrine is a precursor of the party drug ecstasy and is in huge demand in Southeast Asian countries and in the West. NCB regularly tracks postal and courier networks for packages of LSD stamps after investigators found evidence of this modus operandi in Kancheepuram district. But one officer admits that the bureau has only been able to identify middlemen in the network and investigators are still trying to identify the kingpins in the multi-state and international drug smuggling cartels. “Enforcement agencies are working together to identify and break up drug smuggling gangs. We have strengthened coastal monitoring networks to intercept drugs on the high seas,” senior NCB officer Bruno said.

“We have formed special squads in demarcated areas across the state to track drug trafficking by road.” Statistics show seizures of cocaine, among the costliest party drugs, has been relatively consistent between 2015 and 2017, but there has been a spurt in seizures of heroin, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine.

While Chennai and Coimbatore are key hubs in Tamil Nadu for the consumption and smuggling of narcotics, enforcement officials say Tirupur, with a large population of affluent students and IT professionals, is now another city where drug use is growing at a rapid rate.